The Blazers improved to 9-2 on the season tonight with a 108-98 win against the Brooklyn Nets. The Blazers were paced by LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points on 9-16 shooting) and Wesley Matthews (24 points on 9-13 shooting). Damian Lillard also chipped in with 9 assists, and the Blazers find themselves one game away from sweeping their four-game road trip.
The Blazers pulled away in the second half after allowing the Nets to score an astounding 40 points in the first quarter (more on that in a second). They protected their late lead well, and the game was never in doubt for the last four minutes, a refreshing change from some of their recent wins.
The game ball absolutely goes to Wesley Matthews, who played the best game I have seen him play in a Blazers uniform. His 5-8 shooting on threes helped keep the Blazers afloat during that defensively brutal first quarter, and he had several strong moves into the lane that contributed to his also stellar 4-5 shooting on two-pointers. On the defensive side of the ball, he went to war with Joe Johnson, who was held to only 13 points on 4-12 shooting. Their battle was one of the most fun one-on-one matchups I have witnessed in a while.
A win is a win, but the atrocious defense in the first quarter must be acknowledged. There is no way around that. Giving up 40 points in a single quarter should never happen, and the frustrating thing is that there wasn’t just one thing wrong. Rather, it looked like the Blazers just sleepwalked through the defensive side of things to start the game. In fairness, the fatigue can be somewhat understandable due to the game being the second of a back-to-back (the first going into OT) and the third of an East Coast road trip.
With that being said, the Blazers didn’t fight through screens, didn’t track down shooters, and even got a little lazy on one of their strengths this season; rebounding. In particular, the Nets’ pick and rolls were brutal. It seemed as if every single one the Nets ran led to an open eighteen-footer for the screener or red carpet access to the key for the ball-handler. I started to cringe every time I saw one coming.
To their credit though, the Blazers were able to buckle down for the rest of the game, when the Nets only shot 17-66, including a mere 22% in the second half. There are a couple of ways to look at this: the glass half-full route is to be happy that the Blazers were able to recognize and correct their mistakes. This is an absolute must for any team with playoff aspirations. I will always choose a team that is strong in the second half over one that is strong in the first-half.
The glass half-empty side is that the Blazers allowed 40 points in a single quarter, and that the Nets just shot worse in the second half, partially on their own accord. If the Blazers hadn’t had a great offensive first quarter of their own, the game could have been lost right then and there. In the playoffs, this would almost assuredly lead to a loss. Bad quarters are merely a part of the season though, so to see the Blazers bounce back is encouraging.
When the dust settled, the Blazers found themselves 9-2, and only a half game out of first place in the West. For a team whose goal is to reach the playoffs, every win counts. The Blazers will finish up their road trip at 5:00 p.m. PST on Wednesday in Milwaukee.